Is Linkage a Tactical Question in Diplomacy?

Samuel Charap quotes former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz under Reagan administration to explain what linkage means in the art of diplomacy. At the time of Reagan presidency U.S.-Russia bilateral relations were frosty and more adversarial although during Gorbachev era in Moscow relations were heading towards reconciliation and cooperation. Therefore, in George P. Shultz’s experience Soviets gave the Americans a very hard time in negotiations, be it on trade matters or arms control issues.

Reflecting on such experiences in his memoir Shultz has said,” Most Soviet experts linked to link all aspects of our Soviet relationship together and try to use the presumed Soviet desire for progress in one area, such as trade, as leverage to achieve progress in another. I felt that we must be prepared to fight out each issue on its own terms, and that we would be better off if we thought of the relationship that way. We must not ignore Soviet actions that trouble us. On the contrary, we need to respond gracefully. Linkage is a tactical question; the strategic reality of leverage comes from creating facts in support of our overall design”.

Understood in this way linkage has been  commonly practiced even in multilateral diplomacy. At the UN we come across the words like; “nothing is agreed until all else is agreed”. These words add a lot of complications to multilateralism as we have recently witnessed during climate change negotiations. Countries are guided by their national interests and they try to prevail upon others through persuasion to follow their positions. To achieve such objectives sometimes we see a very strange stand taken by countries which are united despite being rivals. Indian and Pakistani delegates had consistently argued in defense of their nuclear programs as if they represented the same country in the wake of nuclear tests in May 1998.

Looking at the process of dialogue between the above two neighbors one can sense the role of linkage in bilateral negotiations. Both India and Pakistan would seem insisting on their own pet issues and they always try to link the progress on one area to another of their concern. If state-sponsored terrorism is favorite issue for India her rival Pakistan would prefer to see the inclusion of disputed territories in Kashmir in any bilateral negotiations launched for consolidation of mutual relationship.

Indo-Pak relations have been characterized by twists and turns which is vindicated by the fact they have fought three wars since independence. In the recent years no high-level bilateral meetings were held albeit the two Foreign Ministers have met last month in order to advance their talks for resolving the issues that divide them. As usual negotiations between them will likely be influenced by the principle of linkage because this is still the most frequently-used tactic in diplomacy.

Nepal as a landlocked least developed country has been constrained to effectively negotiate with her mighty neighbors particularly India. The latter has often utilized the linkage theory to strike any bilateral deal with Nepal. More glaringly India had pressured Nepal to agree to a new Peace and Friendship Treaty in early 1990s by proposing elements of linkage. But then the Nepali authorities declined to sign such agreement, and which if endorsed would have put Nepal in traps. There is a widespread feeling that movement for restoring democracy in 1990 gained momentum after this episode. Linkage as opined by George P. Shultz is truly a tactical question in diplomacy.

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